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I love how, with the Charlotte Mason approach, you’re done with lessons by lunch time. Younger students in her schools were done by 11:30, middle students by 12:00, and older students by 1:00.
It’s so refreshing to focus head-down for a few hours and then relax. The variety of subjects covered during those hours helps the time pass briskly. Effort is required—most definitely—but assignments are not dragged out.
Long hours too often inadvertently instill a habit of dawdling, because the student’s brain is either on overload and fatigued or completely numbed by the tediousness of it all. Brisk, full attention on a variety of subjects keeps the lessons moving along and the student’s mind engaged.
Did I mention I love having lessons done by lunch?
Some people wonder if this approach can possibly be as effective as all-day lessons. Absolutely, because full attention is required for short periods of time. You can get a lot done in a short time with full attention.
Most traditional classroom settings require longer time periods for classes because about half of the time is spent on classroom management: repeating instructions, addressing questions (sometimes the same ones repeatedly), herding the herd. One-on-one instruction is much more efficient. You don’t have to wait on all the others in the class.
So don’t be fooled into thinking that doing a morning of homeschool studies covers only half as much as a whole day of classroom studies. Such is not the case. If you follow Charlotte’s methods and require full attention, you can accomplish plenty during those morning hours—at least as much, and possibly more, than a traditional classroom.
So, finishing lessons before lunch is a blessing, on one hand, because it doesn’t overtax your child, it encourages a habit of full attention, and it gives a sense of accomplishment. School doesn’t drag on all. day. long.
On the other hand, finishing lessons before lunch can also be a challenge. What do the kids do all afternoon? Sit on the couch, or stare at a screen, and eat potato chips?
No. While afternoons don’t have formal lessons, they should still contain plenty of opportunity for learning, as well as time for rest and play.
We want to use those afternoon hours to continue to encourage good habits. And we also should use that time to train our children to be producers, not just consumers. We want them to learn to take initiative in creating and learning and exploring wholesome pastimes in their free time, rather than depending on others, including technology, to merely entertain them.
Some afternoon activities will be parent-directed—for example, supervising chores or arranging for any organized events or activities—but much of the afternoon activity should be at the child’s initiative.
Don’t feel pressured to entertain your child. That’s not your job. And Charlotte reminded us that “He who is most played with by his elders has little power of inventing plays for himself” (School Education, page 37). Provide plenty of raw materials where the child has access to them, and encourage him to use them. But don’t feel like you have to be the entertainment director all afternoon.
What kinds of things could your children do? I’ll give you about 50 ideas here, and at the end I’ll tell you where to find more.
It helps me to think of them in categories.
Use the afternoons to do music lessons or to practice for music lessons—whether on an instrument or voice. Your child could also explore different musical instruments on his own. Or compose her own song and record it. Music offers many opportunities for personal learning.
It works great to do your nature study after the formal lessons are done. That way you can take as much time as you want to outside. You can also encourage each child to pursue any special interests in nature; for example, birdwatching or dog training or rock collecting. One child might plant and tend a flower garden; another might work on outdoor survival skills, such as using a compass, tying knots, and constructing shelters. Obviously, some of these ideas will resonate with younger children and some with older children, but plenty of time outdoors is a great goal to have for productive afternoons.
Sports and Recreation
Don’t feel like you have to belong to some organized team sport in order to do sports and recreation in the afternoons. You could, but you don’t have to. In fact, there’s a lot to be said for encouraging your child toward individual sports and recreation activities that can be enjoyed into adult life without having to depend on others to participate too. For ideas, just remember all the simple pleasures: flying kites, jumping rope, playing four-square, hiking, sledding in the winter, walking the dog, fishing. And many of these happen outdoors as well, which is a plus.
You will have regular handicraft lessons scheduled in your school day to introduce the techniques for knitting, crocheting, woodworking, etc. and get projects started. But afternoons can be used to practice those techniques and work on finishing the projects or tackling bigger ones. If you team up with a local charity, you can use afternoons to work on handicraft projects for them. Our family worked with a local charity that provided handmade baby layettes for hospitals. Once a month we went to the charity location and picked up the yarn and patterns. Then all month, the children worked on knitting the baby booties and sweaters and hats in the afternoons. The next month we would drop off the finished items and pick up more yarn. Teaming up with local charities is a great way to encourage your children to be producers, not just consumers, and to use their hands to bless others. Afternoons are a great time to work on those handicrafts.
Just like handicrafts, the scheduled lessons during the school day can introduce certain techniques and give some practice in using them, but afternoons can be used for further practice and for creating the student’s own projects in painting or sculpting or drawing.
Consider using time in the afternoons for the children to complete chores around the house or to learn new ones. Charlotte’s students had regular work to do in her teacher training center to help keep the facilities clean and maintained. It’s so important that our children learn and practice the skills necessary to keep a household running smoothly, and it’s much less stressful if they can gain those skills a little at a time while they are still living in our homes. Teaching them and giving them regular practice in mending, cooking, laundry, baking, car maintenance, landscaping, or even plumbing or electrical repair (depending on the age of the child) will help them be equipped to transition to life on their own someday. And afternoons provide the time for that intentional equipping.
You can also use afternoons to work on larger home projects, like cleaning the garage, scrubbing the porch, washing the car or vacuuming the inside of the car, or painting a room.
Friends and Family
Afternoons should also be a time to connect with others or just enjoy your own family’s company. Connecting with other people—of all ages—is important; and so is being content at home. Use your afternoons to foster both. You could arrange a park day with friends or stay home and do tea time with poetry. Older children can read to younger siblings. Institute a mandatory rest time during a portion of your afternoons. You might task one or two of the children to come up with a centerpiece for the table for supper. They could find nature objects to use or gather other items to arrange. Afternoons also make a great time to focus on family traditions. Use the afternoon to plan or decorate or prepare or enjoy a celebration for someone or something that is important to your family.
Want more? Oh, I’ve got more!
Hobbies and Personal Interest
Children can use afternoons to explore their personal interests. Those hours are great for leisure reading or writing in a personal Book of Mottoes, or commonplace book, or even catching up on entries in an individual’s Book of Centuries. Hobbies, like photography, can be pursued. There’s also plenty of time for creative writing. Some children might even like to create and publish a family newspaper, working on it during some afternoons. They can play board games or invent their own board game. And don’t forget to have some time to practice the foreign language that you are learning. The children can listen to stories or songs in that language and practice carrying on conversations during the afternoons.
Volunteer Work and Ministry
But not everything should be focused on personal interests. It is just as important to provide opportunities for service, both to neighbors and to those in your church family. You might volunteer to work at a local food pantry or arrange a weekly game date with an elderly neighbor. You might use an afternoon to cook and deliver a meal to someone with a new baby or go clean their house for them. If you have first responders in your neighborhood, take an afternoon to bake some treats for them and deliver it with a note of appreciation and encouragement. Afternoons are a great time to do yard work for an elderly or sick neighbor. Ministry and service are an important part of a Charlotte Mason education.
Some of your older children may be able to earn money doing part-time jobs in the afternoons. Those could range from occasional baby sitting to regular lawn mowing to set hours at a local or family business.
Errands and Appointments
Of course, you can use afternoons to run errands or go to doctor appointments. Better to schedule those in the afternoon than to steal the time from morning lessons. But if you have a choice, try not to schedule those every afternoon. Now, I realize that some of that decision depends on your family’s situation. If you or your children have medical needs that you have to deal with, of course you will have more doctor appointments. Do what you need to do. And remember that you can use the time in the car to listen to music or to sing or listen to a book, either read in person or on audiobook. And some handicraft projects are very portable too.
Outings are another way to spend the afternoon profitably. You could go to an art museum, a botanical garden, a Shakespeare play, the zoo, the library, an aquarium, the ballet. You could pick berries at a nearby pick-your-own farm. Or visit local businesses that your child might be interested in; for example, visit a local ice cream factory or a local radio station. If your child is interested in car maintenance, take an afternoon to visit a car repair shop. You get the idea. And don’t overlook going to a state park or a national park, if you have one nearby. There are so many possibilities for outings. But remember that afternoons don’t have to be full of constant travel and don’t have to be expensive to be productive. In fact, major outings are probably best as an occasional treat.
These are only some ideas for productive afternoons. Was it 50? I lost count. But don’t worry about that. We have put together more than 200 ideas for productive afternoons. You can download the list free on our website.
Also, I’m sure many of you have other ideas. So I invite you to leave a comment and share one of your family’s ideas for afternoon activities.
Here’s to many, many productive afternoons in our Charlotte Mason home schools!